The charter of rights agreed to by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor, on 15 June 1215. The Archbishop of Canterbury to make peace between the unpopular King and a group of rebel barons, it promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown, to be implemented through a council of barons. Neither side stood behind their commitments, and the charter was annulled by Pope Innocent III, leading to the First Barons’ War.
In the 21st century, four exemplifications of the original 1215 charter remain in existence, two at the British Library, one at Lincoln Cathedral and one at Salisbury Cathedral. There are also a handful of the subsequent charters in public and private ownership, including copies of the 1297 charter in both the United States and Australia.
The original charters were written on parchment sheets using quill pens, in heavily abbreviated medieval Latin, which was the convention for legal documents at that time. Each was sealed with the royal great seal, very few of the seals have survived. Although scholars refer to the 63 numbered “clauses” of Magna Carta, the original charter formed a single, long unbroken text.
Featured Image: King John signing the Magna Carta / Image: Traveller 1116 / Getty